The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

We Know What Our Problems Are and We Do Nothing or Make Them Worse

Vasnetov's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Vasnetov’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I’m cranky today. A friend asked me about California’s water problems, and I said: “We’ve known for years, and we’ve done essentially nothing.” The problem in California is agriculture. Every Californian could stop drinking and watering their lawns tomorrow, and California still wouldn’t have enough water. California is draining its aquifers, and wells are going dry. Water which took  millions of years to accumulate is being drained in years.

Much of California is a desert, and yet we insist on growing food there with water we don’t have. The Colorado river is drained to a trickle feeding California. It’s not that California couldn’t grow food, but much of the food it grows (almonds, for example) requires huge amounts of water.

So this is a problem about which we have known for decades, in one sense; I first read the of California’s drought vulnerability as a child, in a book published in the 1950s. In another sense, it’s come quickly, due to climate change, another problem we’ve known about for decades and done nothing of any significance to stop. In fact, we have accelerated climate change with our policies—neo-liberalism was about shipping production from areas that produced less carbon (advanced industrial nations) to areas that would produce the same goods with more carbon. (Production in China is more carbon intensive than the same production was in the US.)

Everywhere I look, I see problems we know exist which we refuse to fix. Our actual actions often make them worse.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year.  If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

In the field of foreign affairs, Western actions since the 1950s, things like overthrowing democratically elected governments, favoring autocracies, funding nasty people like the Taliban, hostility to Nasser, and on and on, reaped the expected result: Democracy, westernization, and modernization has failed in most of the Middle East, and they’ve turned to far nastier ways of running their societies.

In economics, the failures of neo-liberalism were predicted at the time the policies were put into place. I remember the Reagan-Thatcher years, and if you think anyone with sense didn’t know they were about wealth transfers to the rich you are entirely wrong. I read my first “Oh shit, inequality is going to reach Gilded Era levels!” book in 1986. It took longer than the early predictions thought, but it has ground, inevitably, on.

As for resource stagnation, the “Limits To Growth” book was published in 1972. Its baseline exhaustion of limited resources scenario is essentially on track, its larger point that a limited world can’t treat resources as unlimited is also true. Substitution only goes so far. There are two obvious solutions to that problem:

  • Planned use of resources, with intense recycling and heavy dependence on management of renewable resources, or;
  • Getting into space in a big way to expand the resource pool and put off much of the problem for centuries (at which point, hopefully, we figure out a better solution, or go to the stars).

Ideally you’d go with a combination of these two, but we haven’t pursued either one vigorously. Neo-Luddites on the left constantly sneer at any serious idea of exploiting space while “I’ve got mine, there is no future” douchebags on the right oppose both space exploration and sensible stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

This isn’t a “green” issue, this is a common sense, “we have limited resources” issue. The idea that substitutions can be found for anything is merest faith, an example of the fact that ideologies are far more powerful than mere “reality.” (Until they aren’t, a point usually proved through body counts in the millions, and soon in the billions.)

These are just a few of the “big” items. One could probably list a hundred with ease, starting with the warming and acidification of the oceans, the collapse of ocean stocks, and the great-die-off.

The complete inability of our society to deal with obvious consequences of our actions is what has doomed it. This society will not survive. The questions are only “How many people will it kill going down?” and “What will the next society look like in the ashes of the world left to us by this one?”

Whatever it looks like, it will be very different. I have some thoughts along those lines, which I’ll get to in other articles, but the new society won’t be about the immediate capitalistic gratification of needs that don’t actually exist. If it turns back into that, eventually, I doubt oxygen-based life on Earth will survive, and humanity will only survive if it develops self-sustaining colonies not on Earth.

Little of what is going to happen over the next hundred years will be anything humanity has not done to itself. Our fate was, and still is, in our own hands, and we will reap as we have sowed.



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The Philosohy of Populist Change


  1. V. Arnold

    California is likely the pre-eminent example of stupid human tricks.
    This is what we do.
    This is what we excel at.
    The solution is for us to change our nature; the chances of that happening are zero.
    That’s the reality one has to understand before one can find a solution.
    There may be no solution; that’s another reality that must be faced.
    We’re in a pickle with no obvious way out…

  2. someofparts

    I thought we were already in the process of implementing a third solution – massive reduction of population until we level off at a sustainable level. Since those who aspire to be the survivors expect to live lavishly, the population numbers sustainable should be pretty small.

  3. “The Colorado river is drained to a trickle feeding California.”

    Just to set the record straight, Arizona, Nevada and even parts of southern Utah contribute mightily to this problem as well. Agriculture in Imperial Valley comes from the Colorado, but that is a very small part of California’s industry. The vastly larger part of agriculture in northern California is irrigated by groundwater and water from the Sierra, and all metropolitan water for Los Angeles and north is from Sierra and groundwater. San Diego is the only major city still using Colorado River water and that usage is diminishing.

    That we are draining aquifers is accurate enough, and Sierra water is becoming seriously unreliable. And, for further note, the Colorado does not merely slow to a trickle, it no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez at all.

  4. Everythings Jake


    I expect this is the planned solution, only a technocrat could love.

  5. Tom Allen

    Yeah, people who doubt we can find more fertile soil, biodiversity, or petroleum on the nearby planets, comets and asteroids are the unscientific ones all right.

    Seriously, how do you write, “Neo-Luddites on the left constantly sneer at any serious idea of exploiting space” in one paragraph and then say, “The idea that substitutions can be found for anything is merest faith” in the next? What magic resources are you expecting to find in nearby space that will ameliorate climate change, desertification, or the death of the oceans?

    There are plenty of good reasons to go into space. Imagining that somehow it will provide the resources to fix the problems we’ve caused on Earth isn’t one of them.

  6. DMC

    Tom: We won’t be running out of petroleum anytime soon(it will obselete as an energy source long before we burn up known reserves), we can engineer bio-diversity and soil isn’t really required with hydroponics. What we’ll find in space is effectively infinite energy from the sun and pretty much the whole periodic table of elements if you’re willing to look throughout the solar system. By the time we’ve made the trip to the asteroid belts practical(say. under 6 months one-way), transmutation of elements should be a pretty routine technology and yes we can actually do it now on a limited basis(copper into silver, for instance). We’ll also find SPACE itself as in space to put people.

  7. Ian Welsh

    What DMC said, even without transmutation of elements.

    Soil isn’t the primary issue even before then: water + elements + energy = hydroponics.

    We’ve got a ways to go, we can’t get a biosphere working now (this would be right on the top of my A list to fund were I in charge of science funding.)

  8. subgenius

    @ Tom / DMC

    I hold similar opinions to Tom, and an awful lot of education and research in technical domains leads me to believe there is no current technological way to make any relocation to space even a minimally viable option.

    Petroleum will continue for quite some time to be the most concentrated and easy to handle form of stored energy. Obviously we can’t extract all of it, but it’s obvious we as a species are going to do our damnedest. And as a result Gaia is going to slap us with a big ticket when she gets to the sentencing.

    Soil can indeed engineered to increase nutrients, microbial life, and hence fertility – but it takes time, and generally a working biosphere (at least if you like the current arrangement). Guess what? No serious attempts are being made at a scale sufficient to influence our predicament…

    As for hydroponics – I strongly suspect that one needs a functioning biosphere to replenish your plant base over time. Monoculturing also leaves one open to disastrous crop loss should a pest or blight evolve or make it inside the containment.

    And finally- transmutation of elements??? Nuclear alchemy. Achieved with fusion or fission. I spent time studying nuclear physics so i know a bit about it. Requiring insane levels of technology and materials – oh, and fusion? Show me a sustainable MANMADE fusion reaction anywhere, ever, in history….it’s called (at this moment in time) MAGICAL thinking. It has absolutely ZERO use outside children’s books (and arguably should be excluded from them, so we don’t develop generations of ……never mind -too late…)

  9. Ian Welsh

    No, we don’t have the necessary tech yet. We can get there if we focus on it. We waste, literally, trillions of dollars, and have masses of unemployed, underemployed or badly employed scientists and engineers.

    But even before re-location there are plenty of resources out there and that’s what I was primarily referring to.

  10. subgenius

    The tech (in current form) is a boondoggle based on environmentally catastrophic supply chains.

    The supply chain to get shit up and down from space is magnitudes more resource inefficient.

    A space elevator might make a difference, but until one is built the rest is moot. I have grave doubts we have a sufficient window of opportunity to develop a hallelujah tech before the price gets called on our mass idiocy.

  11. Lisa

    subgenius: Yep. Take soil nutrients there are 2 main ones. Phosphorus and nitrogen compounds (some areas like soil poor Australia need others too, need potassium, manganese, etc)

    Nitrogen based: come from natural gas…say no more.
    Phosphorus: We hit ‘peak’ phosphorus a long time ago and are now down into the more expensive, harder to extract rock phosphorus.

    What too many people struggle to understand is lead times. It takes decades to change huge energy, manufacturing, agricultural, etc systems. And we blew it in the west.

    If we had started in a big way in the early 80s we might have done it. Combined nuclear/renewable energy, total decarbonising of energy, total resource recycling systems, recycled nutrients for farming…and all the rest.

    But they have left it too late and we no longer have the resources to even maintain our current systems, let along build whole new ones. They don’t even have the technical skills in many areas any longer.
    The perfect example of loss of skills is the US and space. It cannot lauch anything into space without using Russian engines…..

    Who will lose the most in the current rich countries? The UK and US are top of the list. Much of western Europe (excepting France) as well. Japan obviously.
    Russia is well placed not just because of its immense resources but, critically, it has maintained technical skills in many key areas (eg Russia builds the best nuclear reactors in the world while the UK & US can’t even build one now).
    China is a maybe, but only if they start to make major changes right now, but I don’t like their chances, they are still on the wrong direction and have repeated most of the mistakes that the west did.

    For the magical thinkers:
    Forget space exploration (except for scientific reasons) there is zero chance of sustainable colonies even on somewhere as close as the moon, we don’t even theoretically know how to do it (Heinlein is not a good technical guide).

    Forget fusion (for now). Uranium fission, hopefully a bit later thorium fission and maybe (later still) combined fission/fusion reactors are the way to go for now. These are within our current technical ability to produce in large numbers in some countries (not the US & UK).
    Hydroponics, where to start with this one. Let’s just take…water and the world has hit (gone past) ‘peak’ water. The energy costs and the need for a massive industrial system to provide the inputs are other ‘minor’ factors.

    Another thing people forget, a low carbon, total recycling economy will require much more cheap electricity than we produce now. This means building up large amounts of cheap non-carbon electricity production capacity…and we should have started decades ago, for far too many places (like the UK) it is too late.

  12. EmilianoZ

    History has consistently proved Malthusians wrong. We will not run out of resources anytime soon. Take mineral resources for instance. With the retreating of the ice cap from Greenland, we’re constantly finding new sources of important minerals there. Greenland is fast turning into a new Australia. And god knows what wealth we’ll find under Antarctica! Maybe we’ll have to dial oil peak predictions a few decades back. Anyways, if there were to be a shortage of any kind, the Markets would tell us long in advance.

  13. subgenius

    @ EmilianoZ

    …and the biosphere weeps

    On a finite world, with finite waste sink capacities, and a rapacious master race…no, he was just thinking too small and too soon.

  14. Lisa

    “… the Markets would tell us long in advance”.

    ‘Markets’ are just intereactions between people.
    So somehow these flawed, greedy, short term thinking people will magically see far into the future and perfectly react to it years before there is a problem?

    Oh my, this makes space colonies look realistic.

  15. Ian Welsh

    Can’t agree on space, space is full of huge amounts of water. Nor am I a magical thinker. Besides, the choice to not push the space program properly was made in the 70s and 80s, just like the choice to ignore climate change and other resource depletion: these were choices.

    We’ll see what the cost for getting stuff up into space drops to. The cost for getting things down from space is a lot lower. (And curse the Israelis for killing Gerald Bull.)

    And again, forget large-scale space colonies in the short run: think resources.

    (But note that a lot of what we’re going to need to understand to fix the world will be useful in space. For example, we need to figure out biospheres.)

  16. Cvp

    China is a maybe, but only if they start to make major changes right now, but I don’t like their chances, they are still on the wrong direction and have repeated most of the mistakes that the west did.

    The few times they tried to do better the “Enlightened” west (i.e. ruling-class American nationalist arse####s) went bananas. FP even did a cover railing against China’s rail expansion and the “threat” it posed. No worries anyway, they’ll “choose” to sell their infrastructure to the “enlightened” folk once the military noose tightens around them hard enough.

  17. Ian Welsh

    China’s doing some forward stuff (but not enough), and I really doubt they’ll bend to military threat. Really, really doubt it.

  18. scruff

    I think I must be one of those neo-luddite leftists, because every time anyone writes of the “hopeful” nature of space exploration or thorium fission my cortisol levels triple.

    at which point, hopefully, we figure out a better solution

    That right there is the most faith based of ideas being floated here. When, exactly, has this happened? In some small, local instances, I’m sure, but not in the general trend of industrial civilization. No, the trajectory is clear: this civilization is ecologically unethical and making it galactic will only make it cosmically unethical. Advances in tech are not things to be *hoped* for until and unless this culture dies the fuck off and gets replaced by something respectable. Without that, every technological breakthrough only means more destruction of life and nature, more forced subservience to centralized “authority”.

  19. Cvp

    Nobody ever “bends”. They “coincidentally” start doing “dumb” things, (and we can smile and slap each other on the back and say “Aw shucks, sucks all ’round I guess!”) or else unfortunate bad things start “coincidentally” happening to their countries.

    E.g., Ukraine turns down a nasty S.A.P., and “coincidentally” ends up having a civil war.

  20. joe marchal

    Mark Rinser wrote an excellent book on the fate of our and former agricultural civilizations back in 1986. Cadillac desert, it was made into a mini series and is available on u tube. It has come to be quite prophetic.Theres some good ideas in it.

  21. Cvp

    Oof. “and together we can smile”

  22. V. Arnold

    March 17, 2015

    According to a study done in the early 70’s, the sustainable population for the U.S. is 50 million.
    We’ve raped and pillaged so much since then it’s likely now about 20 million.

  23. V. Arnold

    “We’ll see what the cost for getting stuff up into space drops to. The cost for getting things down from space is a lot lower. (And curse the Israelis for killing Gerald Bull.)”

    Wow, I can’t believe you remember Bull and his ultra-long range cannons. And yes, curse the Israelis for many crimes…

  24. Ian, I’m surprised at you. we have done everything possible to make matters worse. doing no damage is far below the standard that we are accustomed to.

  25. subgenius

    Space is full of huge amounts of everything (its kinda the definition bounds of ‘everything’)

    Space is also unbelievably f@cking huge.

    This leads to an almost zero local quantity of stuff, almost everywhere.

    The ocean contains more gold than we have as a race. But there is no viable way to concentrate it. So it is useless to us.

    Space is like the ocean times a couple billion magnitudes (and that’s before we talk gravity wells, lift requirements and all of the reentry shenanigans such as deceleration, heat shielding etc – and ALL that is beside the issue raised by the ability to lob large masses accurately at a target on the surface from space….)

  26. Tony Wikrent

    I should wade into this issue of “limits to growth” gingerly, but I just don’t have the time or inclination right now, so I am going to be blunt and direct.

    The luddite problem is one the left’s greatest vulnerabilities. Chris Macavel is absolutely correct when he argued, in June of 2014, that the Democratic Party in USA started to go off the rails under Jimmy Carter, when Dem elites adopted the idea of “limits to growth.”

    ” ‘Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society,’ Jacoby observes in The End of Utopia, ‘the left ineluctably retreats to smaller ideas, seeking to expand the options within the existing society.’ ” Source: The Missing Link to the Democratic Party’s Pivot to Wall Street

    Another digression here: the other big shift under Carter was allowing Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to institutionalize usury. That was one of the major turning points to deindustrialization and financializtion. I’ve been repeating this for years now, very politely, but now I am going to put this bluntly: if you believe Paul Volcker is a good guy, you are either an idiot or hopelessly ignorant of the economic history of the past half century, and you should not be offering your opinion on anything concerning any issue of political economy.

    OK, now, Malthus. One of the most evil apologists for the genocidal crimes of the British Empire, ever. Period. Anyone who quotes Malthus with approval is, again, either an idiot hopelessly ignorant of the crucial moral conflict between Great Britain and the United States over the past three centuries. Now, most people can be forgiven for not knowing this history, because, frankly, the British have been winning since they hoodwinked the USA into World War One. “Special relationship” anyone? If you think the British Empire is a thing of the past, please, sit down one evening and begin tracing out the connections on the boards of directors of the corporations that run the world, identified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology on October 2o11. Here’s the URL.–the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world.html#.VQjuH-G6XgY

    Guess which is the most powerful corporation in the world. Goldman Sachs? No. JP Morgan Chase & Co. No? Try Barclays PLC. Just go look up the Board of Directors and their profiles on Wikipedia. And for good measure, take a look at HSBC, the old Hong Shang, historically one of the dirtiest banks in the world. Did you know that the former head of British intelligence is on the board of HSBC? Start putting some names and faces on the one percent. Know who they are, or please don’t bother us with your bullshit anymore.

    And let me lay this down: do not DARE, ever again, to mention Adam Smith or Malthus or David Ricardo favorably until you have read some of the stuff written by Mathew Carey in the mid-nineteenth century. Usually, when I’m dealing with Malthus, I include a nice quote from Carey. I’ve done it dozens of times the past years. Sorry, not tonight. You people are the best humanity has. YOU are the last best hope of the human race. There is not a single elite in elected office anywhere in the world that knows more and has better intentions for humanity than YOU. Barack Obama is a fucking moron compared to you people who read this blog. I have to hold you to a much higher standard. So go read the entire fucking webpage. And follow some of the links to some of the other chapters Carey wrote.

    Anyone who believes there are limits to growth are aiding and abetting the one percent in imposing genocidal austerity on the planet. That’s what Malthus’s role for the British Empire was – to blow smoke up people’s asses so they wouldn’t see how the British Empire was literally starving and destroying entire countries and peoples.

    We have the technology to solve ALL the world’s problems. Right NOW. WE HAVE IT, ready to go. We need, minimally, $100 trillion to deploy those technologies on a scale large enough to actually solve those problems. And the only way you get a $100 trillion to do that is to either destroy the fucking wankers that run the world, or terminate their monopoly on the creation and allocation of money and credit. Any other bellyaching about getting people to consume less, or that there are too many people, or technology is bad, is just bullshit that plays into the hands of the one percent.

    I wrote this in November 2013: Would’ya like a serving of hope for Thanksgiving?

    We are at a history-shattering point of transition, where resources and energy will not be scarce, and will never again be scarce. In the past half century, humanity has developed technological capabilities which are now growing exponentially. The best known example is Moore’s Law: that the number of transistors we can put on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. In a cell phone, one person has at his or her fingertips more computing power than NASA used to put astronauts on the moon forty-four years ago. The only things holding us back are old thinking in the Malthusian mold that denies the possibility of technological solutions; and old ideologies of political economy that prevent us from reforming the financial and monetary systems for the common good and to pay for what we need to do….

    But many progressives and liberals object that our world is overpopulated, and the planet simply cannot support a high standard of living for nine billion people. We are already using thirty percent more natural resources than the planet can sustain. Diamandis and Kotler explain example after example of new technologies that will solve this problem. Such as nano-engineered filters for making drinking water from the most heavily polluted sources, to new materials that will allow us to build photovoltaics without semiconductors, reducing the cost of solar energy by not one, but several orders of magnitude.

    Just as important – and as hopeful – as these new technologies, is the fact, demonstrated over and over and over again, that as a society becomes more prosperous, more economically secure, and healthier, the birth rate drops dramatically. In fact, the birth rate collapses. We have seen this happen in Britain and the USA in the mid-1800s, in Japan in the late 1800s, in South Korea in the 1960s, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and India more recently. In a number of advanced industrial countries, such as Italy and Japan, the birth rate is now actually insufficient, and the populations of those countries are shrinking. Diamandis and Kotler write:

    John Oldfield, managing director of the WASH Advocacy Initiative, which is dedicated to solving global water challenges, explains it this way: “The best way to control population is through increasing child survival, educating girls, and making knowledge about and availability of birth control ubiquitous. By far the most important of these is increasing child survival. In communities where childhood death rates hover near one-third, most parents opt to significantly overshoot their desired family size. They will have replacement births, insurance births, lottery births — and the population soars. It’s counterintuitive, but eradicating smallpox and vaccine-preventable disease and stopping diarrheal diseases and malaria are the best family planning programs yet devised. More disease, especially affecting the poor, will raise infant and child mortality which, in turn, will raise the birth rate. With fewer childhood deaths, you get lower fertility rates — it’s really that straightforward.”

    What about water shortages? Only 2.7 percent of the water on the planet is non-salty and usable for human consumption. Right now, one billion people have no clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Dean Kamen has developed a water distiller that recovers 98 percent of the energy it uses and can produce 250 gallons of sterile water per day. The power source is a Stirling engine that really can burn almost anything, such as rice husks. Others have invented machines that process human wastes and turn them into electric power.

    Energy? In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of people live with no access to electricity – yet one square kilometer of land soaks up from the sun the energy equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil. Deploy enough photovoltaics, and Africa has a huge surplus of energy it can export to Europe. University of Michigan physicist Stephen Rand discovered a way of creating magnetic fields one hundred million times stronger than what the known, accepted “laws” of physics had previously predicted was possible. The result of this research will hopefully be a way of making photovoltaics without semiconductors, reducing the cost of solar energy by not one, but several orders of magnitude.

    Global climate change? Diamandis and Kotler describe the SunShot Initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy

    ….now funded the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a $122 million multi-institution project being led by Caltech, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. JCAP’s goal is to develop light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers, and separation membranes-all the necessary components for faux photosynthesis. “We’re designing an artificial photo-synthetic process,” says Dr. Harry Atwater, director of the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy Research and one of the project’s lead scientists. “By ‘artificial,’ I mean there’s no living or organic component in the whole system. We’re basically turning sunlight, water, and CO, into storable, transportable fuels — we call ‘solar fuels — to address the other two-thirds of our energy consumption needs that normal photovoltaics miss.” Not only will these solar fuels be able to power our cars and heat our buildings, Atwater believes that he can increase the efficiency of photo-synthesis tenfold, perhaps a hundredfold-meaning solar fuels could completely replace fossil fuels. “We’re approaching a critical tipping point,” he says. “It is very likely that, in thirty years, people will be saying to each other, ‘Goodness gracious, why did we ever set fire to hydrocarbons to create heat and energy?’ “

    And what about the carbon we have already dumped into the atmosphere? Dr. David Keith at the University of Calgary has developed technology that actually removes CO2 from the air. Can the technology be scaled up to actually make a difference and undo the damage already done? With enough cheap energy, it probably can.

    Either you have faith in what humanity can do, despite the obvious propensity for evil and mass lunacy. Damn, try to have some historical perspective: three hundred years ago we didn’t even have plastic bottles, let alone aspirin and other meds to put in them. 300 years ago I would have to wait weeks or months for you to finally have in your hands what I’m writing right now. I’m not saying things are not screwed up. I often say, unguardedly, in conversations, things are TOTALLY screwed up. And they nearly are. But we, humanity collectively, know how to solve all these problems. The only obstacles to employing those solutions are the damn ideas of political economists of the fucking British Empire from 300 years ago!

  27. Tony Wikrent

    I meant Henry Carey. Mathew Carey was his father, and also very much worth reading. But the direct repudiation of Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and the British school of political economy was by Henry C. Carey.

    And, a historical side note. Mathew Carey was an Irish revolutionary with a price on his head set by the British. He was smuggled out of Europe and to revolutionary America by the intelligence networks Benjamin Franklin operated out of Paris. Once in Philadelphia, Mathew Carey was set up as a book publisher. His son Henry joined him in the business. Their specialty were technical books – the latest advances in blacksmithing, metalworking, coppersmithing, animal husbandry, botany, leatherworking, foundry work, carpentry, and on and on. The business operated under different names – including Carey & Son, Carey & Lea, and Henry C Carey – through most of the nineteenth century. And, the Carey publishing house was the largest publishing concern in North America for most of the nineteenth century, and was not surpassed until the 1880s or 1890s, by Random House.

  28. Ian Welsh

    We can certainly feed everyone today. We can do various other things for everyone today (such as provide medicine, and housing). I’ve said so repeatedly in the past. But we are past the point of no return on some very large problems, including climate change. And there are some resources which are bottle-necking, that is simply the case. We are looking at some huge problems with water and some massive droughts, we are in a massive die-off, we cannot use the oil we have without frying ourselves, and so on.

  29. Lisa

    Time is the issue. We aee facing massive problems today. Making significant changes to deal with them requires leads times in the decades.

    We dont need ‘it is the lab and someday it will be mass produced stuff’ we need to apply what works today and can be scaled up in mass production quickly.

    All these pie of the sky labs stuff is fine (such as far more efficient solar cells), but it is too late for that now.

    If we made all the right decisons today and put a massive effort into implimenting them, things will still get worse for at least another 20 years, before levelling off and then (hopefully) starting to get better. That is because we have massive, world wide integrated resource extraction, energy, manufacturing, agricultural, distribution systems that have many, many trillions already invested in them and vast numbers of people woring in them.

    Changing them will take a huge amount of effort and time.

  30. scruff

    @Tony: You complain about people who you think are giving apologies for genocide, but what about your apologies for ecocide? Cheap electricity is not going to solve that problem, for the simple reason that every advance in energy production has only ever worsened it. Water filtration systems that allow for humans to derive drinkable water from heavily polluted sources will only lead to people allowing for more pollution in freshwater sources, because fuck the ecosystem, we can take care of our own. Yeah, three hundred years ago we didn’t have plastic bottles, but we’ll sure as hell have them for the next thirty thousand years while they continue to kill of ocean wildlife.

    Every advance you talk about is essentially a reward for bad behavior, and you don’t get good behavior out of a person or a culture by rewarding bad behavior.

  31. RJMeyers

    I’m making a few sci-fi connections here. Not much else to contribute other than “I agree, but hope you’re wrong about how bad things might get.”

    First, along the lines of your observation that most of these things have been predicted, an excerpt from Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight:

    “I know your race and mine are never on the best of terms.” There was a cold smile in his voice if not on his face. “But I do only what you force me to. You rationalize, Keeton. You defend. You reject unpalatable truths, and if you can’t reject them outright you trivialize them. Incremental evidence is never enough for you. You hear rumors of Holocaust; you dismiss them. You see evidence of genocide; you insist it can’t be so bad. Temperatures rise, glaciers melt—species die—and you blame sunspots and volcanoes. Everyone is like this, but you most of all.

    And the other, about how different the societies after ours will have to be, is a recommendation for The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling. The novel takes place (I believe) near the end of the 21st century, with a sudden climate shift having happened sometime in the mid-21st century which wiped out most existing political institutions and killed billions. The remnants are roughly clumped into three groups: (1) Cybernetic eco-communist engineers and scientists based loosely throughout Europe, Canada, and parts of the US, (2) a military industrial entertainment complex run by a corporate feudal nobility that consists of “great families” of celebrities and is centered wholly around Los Angeles, (3) and an absolutely ruthless China, the only major surviving state, which is intent on colonizing Mars, genetically modifying its citizens to do so, and isn’t afraid to throw around a few nukes to get what it wants.

  32. karenjj2

    Tony Wikrent: Thank you for very enlightening comments and links.

  33. Cvp

    Tony: I think too many people here have been reading the Archdruid…

  34. subgenius


    ..whereas I understand that many here have close to zero solid background in science, and similar experience with the process of taking it from a theoretical concept to a viable technology.

  35. Tony Wikrent

    Lisa – I believe well over half the technologies Diamandis and Kotler discuss in their book has been in the lab for a long time, and are still sitting in the lab, because they have not yet attracted “venture capital.” Which is another way of saying the rich pricks have not yet figured out a way to buy the technology, control it, and profit from it.

    That’s my major critique of Diamandis and Kotler – they are indoctrinated with neo-liberal economic ideas and have no conception whatsoever of what a huge obstacle present financial and monetary arrangements are.

  36. Tony Wikrent

    scruff – Even if it were true that “every advance in energy production has only ever worsened” ecocide, my challenge to you is: What is the solution you propose?

    Your prediction about the use of water filtration systems comes very close to the anti-human bias of many anti-technologists: “Humans are the problem.” Oh, really? Please explain how that world view differs from a monarch’s or oligarch’s world view of the worthlessness and disposability of the rabble, the peasantry, the unwashed masses?

    That’s the connection you have to make to see the true roots of that anti-human worldview.

    And I think you are wrong in your belief that “every advance in energy production has only ever worsened.” Just the simple advance in thermal efficiencies of the technology to generate electricity proves that. Is it really worse to generate electricity with a cogeneration turbine plant burning natural gas approaching 60 percent thermal efficiency than generating electricity with a coal-fired steam engine powered dynamo with a thermal efficiency under 20 percent?

  37. Tony Wikrent

    I would like to amend my comments on limits to growth. In reality, there are ALWAYS limits to growth. But those limits apply only in one specific time-phase of scientific and technological development. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, details what happens when a society remains mired in one specific time-phase of scientific and technological development. What Diamond and his readers miss is the obvious conclusion: the most important economic activity a society undertakes is scientific inquiry into all aspects of the surrounding environment, and how it is best used to sustain and reproduce human life. That scientific activity creates technological knowledge and capabilities that form the basis of general economic activity.

    Allow general economic activity to remain in one specific time-phase of scientific and technological development, and environmental and social collapse is inevitable. One of the most exciting aspects of my reading on the creation of the American republic is the overwhelming role played by scientists and amateur scientists. The leading founder was Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the preeminent scientists in the world at that time.

    From “The Higgs boson and the purpose of a republic: which I posted July 31, 2014

    The creation of the United States is clearly an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, but what is important to understand is that the scientific Enlightenment went hand in hand with the political Enlightenment. In his 2010 book, The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature, American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow Timothy Ferris argues that they are inseparable. More, even – Ferris argues that it was the Scientific Revolution that enabled the Enlightenment, not the other way around. The “democratic revolution,” Ferris writes,

    was sparked—caused is perhaps not too strong a word—by the scientific revolution, and…science continues to foster political freedom today. It’s not just that scientific creativity has produced technological improvements, which in turn have enhanced the prosperity and security of the scientific nations, although that is part of the story, but that the freedoms protected by liberal democracies are essential to facilitating scientific inquiry, and that democracy itself is an experimental system without which neither science nor liberty can flourish…. science is inherently anti-authoritarian. In order to qualify as scientific, a proposition must be vulnerable to experimental testing. If it repeatedly fails such tests it tends to fall by the wayside, regardless of who supported it or how much it may have seemed to make sense. (pages 3-4)

  38. Tony Wikrent

    Sorry, the italics should end at the end of the title of Diamond’s book, Collapse

  39. subgenius

    What Diamond and his readers miss is the obvious conclusion: the most important economic activity a society undertakes is scientific inquiry into all aspects of the surrounding environment, and how it is best used to sustain and reproduce human life. That scientific activity creates technological knowledge and capabilities that form the basis of general economic activity.

    A) glad you are qualified to assert that Diamond and all his readers are so stupid as to miss the obvious.

    B) science is only science when there is a free open exchange and debate and experimentation. What we have at the opening of the 21st C is a lot of ‘proprietary secrets’, a surprisingly large portion of which somehow get ‘owned’ by private corps after being found in public research facilities.

    C) general economic idiocy is the reason that stupid environmentally destructive processes are given a carte blanche, and protestors against such are hounded as terrorists.

    Also, as science is essentially a method, all one requires is understanding participants and an environment of free and open exchange as pertains to their discussions. Liberal democracy (as if that is extant in the US today…) is not required.

    Fact check: first explosives, rockets, seismographs, manned space flight, etc came from nondemocratic nations. There are many more examples.

    Plus, the vast majority of the ‘advancements’ of technology that have ‘advanced prosperity and security’ have done so PRECISELY at the cost of ever-increasing environmental destruction, fed all gains to the rapacious f@cks at the top, and handed them the power to create a pretty much ubiquitous surveillance state to keep all of the 7billion minions in their place. This does not seem positive.

  40. Cvp

    A) glad you are qualified to assert that Diamond and all his readers are so stupid as to miss the obvious.

    There’s no such thing as not being stupid enough to miss the obvious.

  41. Flaser

    As usual Ian is spot on, having pointed as aggriculture being the water hog in this issue. However since a *lot* of money is riding on the issue for certain “investors” one should be careful about what’s written on the issue *including* a lot of the drought fear mongering out there.

    A couple of years ago, Yasha Levine wrote a couple of articles about the whole debacle, doing some 101 journalistic investigation:

    *Is the drought an issue? Yes.
    *Is what’s been proposed so far – i.e. giant construction projects and further privatization of public assets – any good for the public? Nope.

  42. Lisa

    Tony Wikrent: I come back to ‘time’. They might be perfect in the lab, but there are always issues when moving to mass production. Production engineers roll their eyes at the endless optimism of scientists, they know how hard it is.

    So lets take a lab ready technology.
    Ok, you start.
    You require new, not off the shelf, equipment to mass produce the product.
    You order this from some supplier. They have to develop and test it first, before they produce the equipment in large enough numbers, there goes years.
    You have to build a factory.
    Hire all the people.
    Get your input supply chains set up.
    Get your product distribution chains set up.

    Start production and ship the product.

    Ok how long? Even if everything goes perfectly right (and it won’t) then 5 years?
    But of course things will go wrong.
    There are always issues going from small scale lab production to mass manufacturing. Scaling up produces its own complex issues.
    The new equipment will have problems, the company supplying it will struggle to make it work properly.
    There will be issues with the new factory.
    Hiring the right people will be difficult.
    Input supply chains will take longer than expected to create.
    Your distribution network will take longer to set up than thought.
    So suddenly your ‘perfect’ 5 years becomes 10 years.

    Then, no matter how big your production is it takes time for this ‘wonder tech’ to be taken up enough to make a significant difference to the world. In reality you start with a smallish production ‘pilot’ plant , then build it up, expand your factory, build more factories, more people, more equipment, more inputs.

    So there you are, could be 30 years easily before the improvements from this new tech start to significantly affect the world.

    And then there is the risk that this tech cannot be scaled up, so the venture fails. The world is awash with great lab stuff that simply cannot currently be mass produced (graphene is a textbook case). Trouble is you need to try it to find out if it can be done. So you can blow 5 or even 10 years then find out you have nothing. For example there has been a least one case I know about regarding a semiconducter factory that never worked and ended up being shut down and this is well understood tech.

    We don’t have all those years to bet on a ‘maybe’. Sure keep up R&D to produce better stuff for the future, but to make a signficant impact by 20 years from now means proven off the shelf technology that is already in mass production.

    Any solutions that doesn’t base themself on that are pipedreams.

  43. Tony Wikrent

    Lisa – OK, it’s not easy and problem free to move from lab to production. “We’re out of time.” Sp, what alternative course(s) of action(s) do you propose?

    I guess the popular thing to do is turn away from the bleak future immediately before us, and party like there’s no tomorrow? Well, it will certainly be more fun than trying to get people to act.

  44. scruff


    my challenge to you is: What is the solution you propose?

    I don’t have a solution for the problem, and I don’t know anyone else who does either. But I can recognize a non-solution when I see it, which yours is. Not even so much a non-solution as a reinforcement of the same old bad behaviors we’ve had all along. But to start off, this culture needs to go. Since the culture is the problem, it dying is part of the solution. That does not provide a complete solution, of course, or a set of ways for people surviving to live, I recognize that. I’m not claiming I can draw a map to a perfect world.

    Your prediction about the use of water filtration systems comes very close to the anti-human bias of many anti-technologists: “Humans are the problem.” Oh, really? Please explain how that world view differs from a monarch’s or oligarch’s world view of the worthlessness and disposability of the rabble, the peasantry, the unwashed masses?

    I have a non-anthropocentric perspective, not an anti-human one. In addition to missing that possibility, you are also confusing this culture with humanity. Natives lived where I lived now for hundreds of years without killing off all of, say, the salmon, despite that salmon were their greatest staple food. A couple of hundred years of this culture however, and the salmon are in serious danger. There are real and meaningful cultural differences at play between those two groups of humans, and it’s not anti-human to say that one of those cultures is seriously fucked up.

    But the real problem here is that the connection you want me to make is the connection that I want you to make. You ask me about the oligarch’s view of the disposability of the rabble, the peasantry and the unwashed masses. I ask you to take that same insight and apply it to the civilized human view of the disposability of the wild animal species, the health of ecosystems, and all forms of nature that do not inherently serve to support civilized human desires. Because the same exploitative relationship we all complain about on Ian’s blog is also the relationship between civilization and the natural world in general.

    And I think you are wrong in your belief that “every advance in energy production has only ever worsened.” Just the simple advance in thermal efficiencies of the technology to generate electricity proves that. Is it really worse to generate electricity with a cogeneration turbine plant burning natural gas approaching 60 percent thermal efficiency than generating electricity with a coal-fired steam engine powered dynamo with a thermal efficiency under 20 percent?

    You have a point, and I have to apologize for my poor communication. I was or rather was trying to refer to bigger advances than the likes of that. What I’m talking about is the general trend of human energy production, which human and pre-human history and pre-history shapes up vaguely like this:

    First we got energy from the sun and from food.
    Then we got energy from fires using dung and more importantly wood.
    Then we got energy from coal.
    Then we got energy from oil.
    Then we started getting energy from nuclear sources.

    Along that timeline there ought to be some other interspersed events: the use of bog iron, development of agriculture, mining of ore for metals, and so on. Technological advances which improved efficiencies of the energy sources or lifestyles dependent on those energy sources.

    But at each stage of change, humans have wrought greater destruction on the natural world. Wood fires – although the basis of energy production for most tribal pre-historical societies the likes of which I recommend above our own civilization in my comment above about the salmon – were not without their consequences. The megafauna overkill of Oceania and the Americas, IIRC, came under the energy stage of wood fire, not coal. However, the societies that survived in those places ended up being far less harmful ecologically then the civilizations that colonized those places later on. With agriculture, coal and oil came greater environmental harm throughout the world.

    Because of this, I feel confident in saying that if this civilization develops better nuclear technology or better solar technology or really any better energy technology at all, that it will lead to greater ecological destruction. Quite simply because that is what this culture does with extra energy. It’s kind of like the externalities problem Ian brought up recently. When our tech gets better or more efficient, we don’t use that to reduce the impact of our lives, we use it to expand the impact of our lives. So yes, in a sense it is worse to generate electricity with a cogeneration turbine plant burning natural gas approaching 60 percent thermal efficiency than to generate electricity with a coal-fired steam engine powered dynamo with a thermal efficiency under 20 percent because such a thing allows for more energy to be produced and thus a greater impact to be generated.

  45. To Lisa

    Love your sense of reality. As one guy told me in the 1980s, “if you think high-speed rail and light transit are the answers, then you should be able to look out your window and see folks laying track.”

    So your concerns are more certainly valid.

    OTOH, why does all this stuff take so long? It was not always thus. My favorite example concerns the German crises when the Brits cut off their nitrate supplies from Chile during the early days of WW I. If this problem was not remedied, their artillery would go silent. They scaled up a successful lab experiment called the Häber-Bosche process to industrial size quickly enough so that their generals could go on with their artillery barrages until the Armistice. In WWII, USA aerospace designed and flew the best fighter of the war in less than 150 days.

    Yes, we have lost a LOT of those abilities during de-industrialization but I must agree with Tony here—the real problem is that the Producers Classes have been starved for resources. If we were spending $100 trillion to solve our problems, I am willing to bet we would see some industrial miracles that would make the Häber-Bosche example look lame..

  46. Shorter (much, much shorter) Wikrent:

    Just keep staying the course, the omelette’s on its way!

  47. DMC

    Or we replace high impact energy production(coal, gas, etc.) with low impact renewables. Look out the window and you’ll see people putting up solar panels. Investment in new energy sources last year was 99% renewables. Keep your eye on the price of a kilowatt/hour as its going to be the really significant indicator. When electricty costs 1% of its current price, massive desalination plants will make perfect sense. In case you hadn’t heard, the melting of the polar caps is adding an enormous amount of fresh water to the oceans, which we could be taking back out. Furthermore, if we go the “crack hydregon to store energy” route, the by-product of oxidising that hydregon is distilled water. It takes an impending crisis(ala “no more nitrates from Chile) to really focus the attention of us bald apes on a problem.

  48. V. Arnold

    @ scruff
    March 18, 2015

    Scruff agree 100%. Nice critique. I spent 25 minutes composing a post supporting your post only to lose it.
    Whatever, I agree and suggest a look at the complete failure of American education as complicit in today’s failure in American democracy.
    It’s not an accident or unintentional consequences; but rather an intentional dumbing down of society.
    The Underground History of American Education; by John Taylor Gatto

    Free audio books including above…
    I strongly recommend; especially chapter #1…

  49. Lisa

    Well the key to success is to focus on the biggest problems first.

    There are global issues and local issues.

    Obviously #1 local prioritiy in an area with water shortages is to focus on that, which means changing agriculture, the number one water user (though you can do useful things for cities and towns too). Some of that can be met by changing to different crops, for example things like cotton and rice are water hoggers, it makes no sense to grow them in low water areas.
    Others are identfying the points of maximum waste and fixing them. Accepting lower yields to stay within a water budget is also a bit of a no brainer.

    Other areas will have other issues to deal with, but the same basic principles apply.

    The global #1 is changing every fossil fuel electricity power generation to a zero carbon one. It is not that well known but if the world does that then we can just about make our carbon budget.

    How that is done varies accoring to geographical luck basically. Australia is pretty lucky in that we could get to 50% based on renewables fairly easily. But that still leaves 50%. And the only candidate is current nuclear fission designs, forget all the ‘pie in the sky’ stuff it is all piffle. 70% is possible if we make some hard decisions about utilising more reverse pumping hydro in Tasmania. My postion is ‘sorry Franklin River, but there are greater priorities’.

    Elsewhere the numbers will be different. Take Finland as an example, sod all renewable possibilties, so it is virtually a total nuclear power case.

    Some are easy to knock off quickly, almost at a stroke of a pen, such as antibiotic use in farming, you just kill that. Fertiliser use, it will take a bit of time to set up the recycling plants from sewage, but technically very easy. Reducing fertliser wastage due to run off (and pollution), should also be a bit of a no brainer in many (obviously not all) areas. This is just sheer waste and stupidity, maybe a super tax on fertilisers will stop farmers wasting (what) 50%+ of what they put on the ground.

    You have to always remember …farmers are stupid, ok. To make meaningful changes in agriculture you have work around that basic fact. The only thing that matters to them is the money from the next crop. It is a nasty fact that nearly all the problems in agriculture have been caused by stupid farmers who are too dumb to think past the next season.
    For 30 years I watched the agriculture along the Murray here being affected by rising salt water tables. I could see it happening just by looking. And not single person did anything about it, until the salt gets too high and the trees start to die, then the land dies. Whole areas now totally dead. With some really basic and very cheap methods introduced 20 years ago the whole issue could have been avoided……

    So a combination of picking off the ‘big’ #1 issues, plus the quick ‘no brainer’ ones can start to change some of the worst things fairly quickly.

    But you need consensus on what those are and how to deal with them. In the west the ‘unholy alliance’ between fossil fuel (particularly coal) companies and the political Green movements means we will be burning coal until there is nothing left.
    This is a cynical, but accurate statement, just look at Germany. Yes they are shutting down their nuclear plants …and replacing them with brown coal ones. And the Greens there are happy with that, nuclear is their ju-ju thing, it is the very defintion of most political Green parties.

    Here in Australia they would rather the world fries than their precious Franklin River is touched and in this they are in lockstep with the electricity, coal and gas companies who hate the idea of better load balancing because it hits their profits.

    The fossil fuel companies have been adept at utilising this politically. The classic is switching from coal to gas for power generation. This is a total con, but the Greens all go away happy, for awhile, until the gas runs out (eg the UK).

    Basically the fossil fuel companies don’t oppose the Greens when the ‘useful idiots’ are fighting for something they like (kill nuclear power), but then oppose them over their interests (like CSG). This has created a political environment that paralyses sensible options.

    There is a classic here in Victoria Australia where the coal companies have managed to shut down greater wind development with a clever ‘grass roots’ (lol) campaign. And the Greens here are too stupid and disorganised to realise what is going on and fight against it in a cohesive way. However, if a nuclear power plant was proposed to be built here, then they would get motivated real fast and there would be blood on the streets over it. Hence the term ‘useful idiots’.

    Not just nuclear, even in the most basic ways. Here in Oz they go on and on about free plastic bags in supermarkets. Which are sod all of an issue. But plastic bottles, which are a major environmental issue….ummm not so much because they like their trendy bottles of water too much….. If they had pulled their finger out and did a real campaign we could have got a national bottle deposit scheme going (which exists in South Australia) ages ago, which is a simple key first step to reducing a major source of plastic pollution (banning water sold in bottles is an even better way, though it does serve a useful purpose as a visual indicator of total stupidity).

    So somehow you have to steer a path between (or better still deligitimise) these lobbies (and others like them) to get anything useful done. We have done too much damage to the world already and it would take lifetimes to reverse it, but what we can practically do is to stop further damage in the worst areas within a reasonable timeframe and put down the seeds to reverse some (but not all) things over time (reforestation is one example of that).

  50. Draco R

    First I’d like to say thanks for the post. Next I would like to commend the commenters for their various knowledge. I wish I knew how old some of the commenters on this page are for I have witnessed a definite sliding scale of optimism, knowledge, willingness to try new things, and hopelessness depending on the age of a person. I am 26 and have gone through many emotional waves regarding life, humanity, and the destruction of our planet and societies. With discussion from friends and living through pessimism I have finally become mostly optimistic about all things. I’m clearly not as well-read as some of you and not quite as clever with my arguments so I will just say a few things.

    @Tony: Thank you for the great information posted. I agree wholeheartedly with you when it comes to Solar technologies. The sun burns and as long as we don’t alter the sun’s balance or increase it’s burn rate somehow I highly doubt we will suffer negative effects to the environment via sunlight gathering. I do not KNOW yet as we haven’t tried it en masse but it is not the same as combusting technology like fires, coals, oils, and gases.

    @Scruff: I agree with you about being very careful about which roads we try to “progress” down as your synopsis on humanity using tech over time has led to worsening ecological effects. I do not think this should ever hold us back from trying new things as long as we hold the importance of our planet in the forefront of our minds. And YES this is a cultural problem, I agree.

    @Lisa: You have good ideas about how we can start some things immediately with what we have and they will be required and appreciated. I wouldn’t worry so much about the mass production of things if they can potentially help our situation though as long as we change the system by which those things are typically accomplished.

    We are definitely nowhere near a limitation on our growth. We have plenty of room and plenty of resources as long as we switch to economic systems that save, share, and recycle resources and stop allowing banks and real estate investors to OWN land.

    I think we are all on the same page despite our differences. We have a common enemy that prevents us from asserting these ideas and we are much bigger than they are. We must focus on the richest people and companies and take the power away from them. We must shut down their paid for governments and rid ourselves of the banks and insurance companies we are indebted to through fear and indoctrination. We CANNOT allow capitalism to continue and the rich to direct things. We must do this with as little violence as possible through simply no longer working for them and ignoring them until they can be put to a job that better serves the community. Our military must be directed via real “defence” not the euphemism America has created. Soldiers should be encouraged to promote honesty and integrity at home and should be seen helping anyone who needs help from various accidents or environmental dangers that pop up(fires, floods, earthquakes, etc). I’m getting too preachy and it seems you all know this already as it’s been written about for decades so I’ll just leave you with a few more thoughts.

    Those in my generation that spend their time thinking and noticing and being aware are hyper aware to our problems. We do not like these problems and we want nothing more than to immediately begin to fix them. Media, government (parties of any kind), military police, and rich elites can sod off. They can do nothing without our help so they MUST be put back to work helping us. We are ready and our focus is on our children and teaching them what must be done in order to staunch these problems as quickly as possible. My day is complete when I can inform somebody in a way that is not overly aggressive or contrary to their thoughts about our predicament and pull them out of the “grind” of the day so that it STICKS in their head. Odd synchronization is appearing around the world even as violence and war increases. I must remain optimistic at least at my age and simply try to nudge more and more facts into the subconscious of those blissfully unaware or uncaring. My mind has changed so much and freed itself in the last 8 years and I believe the focus must be on the youth.

    Without some form of solidarity via working locally and thinking/communicating globally our power seems useless. How/when can we begin systemic cultural change in our minds and economies which is (in my opinion) the biggest factor in helping the world?

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